New York Yankees: 25 Greatest Clutch Hitters in Franchise History
That was the lifespan of a short-lived statistic known as Game-Winning RBI (GWRBI), a stat that was eliminated because it did not only focus on the truly clutch moments of a game. Said Keith Hernandez, forever the all-time leader in GWRBI with 129, "If you win 10-0, you shouldn't have one. You hit a sacrifice fly in the first inning, there's not that kind of pressure early in the game."
Pressure. Some wilt under its weight while others rise to the occasion and produce when their team needs them most.
Over the course of time, the New York Yankees have seen countless players who fall into both categories.
But we aren't here to reminisce about those who could not—we are here to celebrate those who could, who did and who continue to perform under pressure—those who can be called clutch.
For the New York Yankees, they have had countless players win games for them over the course of their storied history.
Lets take a look at the 25 most prolific performers.
25. Robinson Cano
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Robinson Cano still has plenty of time to move up this list—and I fully expect that were I to do this again in two years, that Cano would warrant a huge jump in the rankings.
In his short career thus far, Cano has had his share of clutch hits. From his three-run shot in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Chicago White Sox on August 28th, 2009 to his 6 RBI performance in Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, Robinson Cano is re-writing the history books for 2B in Yankees history.
24. Bill Dickey
Bill Dickey was one of the best catchers that the game has ever seen, both with the bat and the glove.
He hit over .300 in 10 of his first 11 seasons as a full-time player and, upon his retirement in 1946, held the record for most home runs and doubles by a catcher in baseball history.
While I've stated multiple times before my dislike for most things sabermetric, one stat that Bill James invented speaks volumes for how clutch of a hitter Dickey was—runs created.
Dickey created 1,164 runs for the Yankees, landing him in ninth place all-time for the franchise, four runs behind Don Mattingly.
23. Earle Combs
One of the great leadoff hitters in the history of the game, Earle Combs is often overlooked because he played alongside Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.
Combs compiled a Hall of Fame career that saw him hit over .300 in 10 of his 12 seasons and score at least 100 runs each year from 1925 through the 1932 season. His career-low batting average, for those wondering, was .282 in his final season of 1935.
A career .325 hitter, Combs was even better in the World Series, raising his average to .350 while providing the same timely hitting that allowed the bigger stars who hit behind him to drive him home, as he scored 17 runs in 16 World Series games.
22. Hideki Matsui
Hideki Matsui spent seven memorable seasons in the Bronx during which he came through in the clutch a number of times.
As MVP of the 2009 World Series, he hit .615 with three home runs and eight RBI, including a six-RBI performance in Game 6.
But for me, the biggest clutch moment of Matsui's career came on April 8th, 2003 against the Minnesota Twins, his first game at Yankee Stadium.
With the eyes of the world and unthinkable pressure to live up to his "Godzilla" nickname and reputation for being a big-time power threat in Japan, Matsui came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning holding onto a 3-1 lead.
Matsui, who had scored the game's go-ahead run the inning before, found the bases loaded and one out on the scoreboard against Twins starter Joe Mays.
He would work a 3-2 count against Mays, and on the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Matsui would hit a grand slam that gave the Yankees an insurmountable six-run lead.
21. Chris Chambliss
Chris Chambliss spent parts of six seasons in the Bronx, but none was more memorable than 1976.
In the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals, the Yankees blew a three-run lead in the top of the eighth inning when George Brett hit a game-tying, three-run home run off of Yankees reliever Grant Jackson.
With the game tied at 6, Chambliss stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning against Royals reliever Mark Littell.
Chambliss would send the first pitch he would see into the stands for a game-winning, AL Pennant-clinching home run, sending the Yankees to their first World Series in 12 years.
20. Don Mattingly
One of only two players on this list to have not played in a World Series as a member of the Yankees, Don Mattingly represented everything that was right with the game in the '80s and early '90s.
A quiet superstar who led by example, Donnie Baseball was one of the preeminent hitters of his generation, though his bat speed and power were sapped by a chronically-injured back as his career progressed.
Examples of his clutch hitting—hits that certainly helped ensure that the mediocre Yankees teams of the mid-to-late 1980s were mediocre and not awful—are plentiful.
In virtually every game situation that you could define as a clutch situation, Mattingly has an average above .300 in all but one, a .282 average with two outs and runners in scoring position.
19. Jim Leyritz
Owner of a relatively unremarkable career, Jim Leyritz made people stand up and take notice when he came to the plate in the postseason.
After one of his postseason heroics, Bob Costas once said, "You could send this guy to a resort in the spring and summer, as long as he comes back for October."
Leyritz hit a number of memorable home runs, perhaps the most remarkable coming in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series.
With the Yankees trailing by three entering the eighth inning, Leyritz came to the plate against Braves closer Mark Wohlers with two men on and one out. Leyritz would take Wohlers' sixth pitch deep into the night, tying the game and turning the momentum of the series back in the Yankees favor.
18. Bernie Williams
Some will cite his mediocre statistics in the World Series—a .208 batting average, .677 OPS, five home runs and 25 RBI in 32 games—as grounds to claim that Bernie Williams was not a clutch hitter. I call those claims absurd. If not for one of the more underrated players around the league during his career, the most recent Yankees dynasty does not happen.
While his World Series statistics were significantly lower then both his regular season and other playoff numbers, Bernie's 16-year career is littered with clutch hits. Two of those stick out for me.
First, in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles, a game that is remembered more for the Jeffrey Maier incident than anything else. But with the game tied at four in the bottom of the 11th inning, Bernie stepped to the plate against Orioles closer Randy Myers, who facing his fifth batter since the ninth inning. Bernie would take the third pitch of the at-bat and deposit it deep into the bleachers in left field, giving the Yankees a dramatic 5-4 win.
After defeating the Orioles in five games, the Yankees moved on to the World Series and the Atlanta Braves, a team they would quickly find themselves trailing two games to none after being outscored 16-to-1 in two games at Yankee Stadium. Bernie would receive ALCS MVP honors after hitting .474 with two home runs and six RBI.
The Yankees led the game 2-1 entering the top of the eighth inning. Braves starter Tom Glavine was replaced by reliever Greg McMichael to start the inning. After a Derek Jeter single, Bernie stepped to the plate and hit a two-run blast to deep right field, giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead and served as a turning point in the momentum of the series, which the Yankees eventually won in six games.
17. Paul O'Neill
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Paul O'Neill is vividly remembered as a fiery leader in the middle of the Yankees' lineup, someone who played with a reckless abandon and left it all on the field in every game. He had hits that started rallies, others that won games and a fair share of missed opportunities as well.
But one of the most clutch at-bats of his career didn't end with O'Neill smashing the ball deep into the Bronx night.
In Game 1 of the 2000 World Series against the crosstown New York Mets, the Yankees headed into the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 3-2. After Jorge Posada narrowly missed a game-tying home run, O'Neill stepped in against Mets' closer Armando Benitez.
It would take Benitez 10 pitches to finish the at-bat against O'Neill—an at-bat that resulted in O'Neill trotting to first base with a walk. Singles by Luis Polonia and Jose Vizcaino would load the bases for Chuck Knoblauch, who hit a fly ball deep enough to left field that O'Neill was able to tag up and score the game-tying run. The Yankees would eventually win in 12 innings.
16. Hank Bauer
A fierce competitor on the field, Hank Bauer endeared himself to his teammates and fans alike with his hard-nosed style of baseball.
Bauer was a fierce competitor who provided plenty of timely hitting during the regular season during his 12-year Yankee career, though he performed well below expectations in the postseason, with the exception coming in Game 6 of the 1951 World Series.
With the game tied at one in the bottom of the sixth inning, Bauer came to bat with the bases loaded and two out.
He would take New York Giants' starter Dave Koslo deep to left field, resulting in a bases-clearing and series-clinching three-run triple.
15. Bobby Richardson
Bobby Richardson saved his best performances at the plate for the biggest stage, the World Series.
In 1960, he would become the first and only player from the losing team to win World Series MVP honors as a member of the losing team after hitting .367 with a home run and 12 RBI over the seven-game series.
A .266 hitter in the regular season, Richardson raised his average raised nearly 40 points to .305 over 36 World Series games.
14. Scott Brosius
There is no possible way that the Yankees knew what they were getting in Scott Brosius when they acquired him following the 1997 season from the Oakland A's in exchange for Kenny Rogers.
In seven seasons with Oakland, Brosius was a .248 hitter with 76 home runs and 249 RBI.
In four seasons in the Bronx, Brosius would hit .267 with 65 home runs and 282 RBI.
His numbers going up was not the surprise, as the Yankees had a vastly superior lineup than the A's did.
But his penchant for big hits in the playoffs did come as a surprise.
Brosius would take home World Series MVP honors in 1998 after hitting .471 with two home runs and six RBI. In Game 3, the Yankees entered the top of the seventh inning trailing the San Diego Padres 3-0. Brosius would lead off the inning with a solo home run, cutting the lead to 3-1.
The following inning, Brosius stepped to the plate again, this time with one out, two runners on base and Padres closer Trevor Hoffman on the mound. Brosius would take Hoffman's fifth pitch of the at-bat deep into the night, scoring three runs and giving the Yankees the lead for good.
Three years later, Brosius would prove to be clutch in the World Series again. In Game 5 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Yankees trailed 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Brosius once again took a closer deep, this time Arizona's Byung-Hyun Kim, tying the game at two and setting the stage for the Yankees' extra-innings victory.
13. Jorge Posada
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Former Yankees manager Joe Torre said about Jorge Posada, "He played under pressure as well as anybody for me...When he got up with the bases loaded or the winning run on base he was like ice."
Torre was right; Posada's batting line with the bases loaded—.332/.374/.553/.927 in 235 official at-bats—is significantly higher than his career numbers. Throw in 10 home runs and 205 RBI, and you can see why his teammates, coaches and fans were so confident that Jorge would come through for them when it mattered most.
As with most players on this list, Posada has multiple clutch moments to choose from, but a May 16, 2006 game between the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees is one that many have overlooked.
The Yankees found themselves down 9-0 after two innings and slowly worked their way back into the game. Posada would have a RBI single in the bottom of the third inning to cut the deficit to 9-3, a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth inning to make it a 10-4 game (and advance the runners to allow Robinson Cano to drive in another run, making it 10-5) and another sac fly in the bottom of the seventh inning that would tie the game at 12.
In the bottom on the ninth inning, Posada would step to the plate once again, this time with two out and Johnny Damon on second base. Jorge would take Rangers' reliever Akinori Otsuka deep for a game-winning two-run home run, his fourth and fifth RBIs on the day, giving the Yankees a highly unlikely 14-12 victory.
12. Phil Rizzuto
Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto is a Yankee who transcends generations.
One generation remembers him as a player while another only knows him as the voice of the Yankees before the YES Network came to fruition.
As a player, Rizzuto was one of the great bunters of his era. From 1949 through 1952, Scooter accumulated 93 sacrifice hits, many of them bunts.
One bunt in particular made Casey Stengel exclaim that it was the greatest play he had ever seen.
Rather than try to paraphrase, here is the story as told by the New York Times:
Two plays in 1951 were emblematic of Rizzuto’s career.
In the first, Rizzuto, a right-handed batter, was at the plate facing Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, in the middle of a pennant chase, the score tied at 1-1. DiMaggio was on third base. Rizzuto took Lemon’s first pitch, a strike, and argued the call with the umpire. That gave Rizzuto time to grab his bat from both ends, the sign to DiMaggio that a squeeze play was on for the next pitch. But DiMaggio broke early, surprising Rizzuto. Lemon, seeing what was happening, threw high and behind Rizzuto, to avoid a bunt. But with Joltin’ Joe bearing down on him, Rizzuto got his bat up in time to lay down a bunt.
“If I didn’t bunt, the pitch would’ve hit me right in the head,” Rizzuto said. “I bunted it with both feet off the ground, but I got it off toward first base.”
DiMaggio scored the winning run. Stengel called it “the greatest play I ever saw.”
11. Tommy Henrich
Part of one of the best outfields baseball has ever seen, along with Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich earned the nicknames "Old Reliable" and "Clutch" for good reason.
In Game 4 of the 1941 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Yankees were trailing 4-3 with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, clinging to a one-game lead in the series. Henrich would strike out, but Dodgers' catcher Mickey Owen dropped the third strike. Henrich busted down the line towards first, reaching safely and eventually scoring the tying run as the Yankees came back to win 7-4.
But it was 1949 that truly cemented Henrich's legacy as one of the best clutch hitters in Yankees history. Some will point to his six grand slams throughout the season, others to his two-RBI game against the Boston Red Sox on the last day of the season that won the Yankees the pennant.
In Game 1 of the 1949 World Series, once again against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Henrich would hit a game-winning home run off of Dodgers starter Don Newcombe, the first game-winning home run in World Series history.
"Tommy was a terrific player. What made him so special was that he always played well in big games. It seemed like he never made any mistakes in the outfield. He was a true professional and an ultimate Yankee."
10. Tino Martinez
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Replacing an icon is virtually impossible, but that was the situation that Tino Martinez found himself in after being acquired by the Yankees prior to the 1996 season as he was called upon to replace the recently retired Don Mattingly at 1B.
Tino produced a number of memorable moments in pinstripes, but two stand out above the rest.
In the seventh inning of Game 1 during the 1998 World Series against the San Diego Padres, Tino came to the plate with two outs, the bases loaded and the game tied at 5.
Facing a 3-2 count against Mark Langston, Tino would take the sixth pitch of the at-bat deep into the right field seats, a grand slam that gave the Yankees a 9-5 lead and eventual victory.
Three years later, Martinez found himself struggling against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series. With the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning and facing a possible two-game deficit in the series, Tino dug in against Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim.
With two outs, Martinez would take Kim's first pitch and deposit it into the right-centerfield stands, tying the game at three and setting the stage for the Yankees' extra-inning victory.
9. Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson's time as a player with the Yankees was colorful to say the least—from repeated interviews where he supposedly derided Yankee captain Thurman Munson (something Jackson denies) to his feud with manager Billy Martin.
Prior to Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, as he was beginning to be interviewed, Munson quipped to the reporter that he was probably better off speaking to Jackson, dubbing Reggie "Mr. October," the nickname that has stuck with him to this day.
The Yankees entered Game 6 of the series with a 3-2 lead and Jackson, who had hit home runs in both Game 4 and Game 5, walked to start the second inning, only to be driven in by Chris Chambliss with a two-run home run that tied the game at two.
Jackson would proceed to hit home runs on the first pitch of his next three at-bats, leading the Yankees to an eventual 8-4 victory and their first World Series championship since 1962. Reggie would take home World Series MVP honors after hitting .450 with five home runs and eight RBI over the six games.
8. Thurman Munson
We all know that Thurman Munson was the heart and soul of the Yankees during the 1970s and that he was taken from us too soon. Many remember Munson's hard-nosed style of play and the feud that he and Boston Red Sox backstop Carlton Fisk carried on throughout much of the decade.
But Munson was a heck of a hitter, and he raised his game to another level during the World Series. He appeared in three World Series as a member of the Yankees—1976, 1977 and 1978, in which he would hit .529, .320 and .320, respectively. That's a .373 average, nearly 100 points higher than his career mark of .292.
7. Bobby Murcer
One of the most beloved Yankees of the past 40 years, Bobby Murcer provided timely hitting and one of the most memorable performances in Yankees history in the face of one of the biggest tragedies to befall the organization.
His 17 game-winning hits in 1973 and 13 game-winning hits in 1980 are impressive enough, but it was what he did only hours after burying and eulogizing one of his best friends, a man he loved like a brother, Thurman Munson.
Former Yankees trainer Gene Monahan tells the story better than anyone else could:
Of all the things that we do that are hard or difficult in this business – late-night flights, getting in at 4 in the morning, playing 20 days in a row, all the moaning that you hear – that was probably the hardest, to lose a family member like this. That particular instance, when Thurman passed away, he, as his friend, came forward. Talk about being difficult – to this day, I don’t know he got through it, but he did. How he put that eulogy together in a day and a half, we all went out there as a team, he and Lou Piniella – I don’t know how he did that. And then to come back home and win a ballgame for us, there’s no words for that.
If that's not clutch, then I don't know what is.
6. Joe DiMaggio
Sure, his World Series numbers are significantly lower than his career averages—a .325 lifetime hitter who had a .275 average in 51 World Series games—but is there anyone who could seriously argue that Joe DiMaggio wasn't clutch?
The Yankee Clipper is of course probably most well-known for his 56-game hitting streak, and rightfully so—it remains as one of those elusive records in the game that I don't think will ever be broken.
But let's take a more in-depth look at the streak, shall we?
Over the 56 games, DiMaggio's numbers were remarkable: .408 BA, .416 OBP, .713 SLG, 1.129 OPS, 15 home runs, 55 RBI, 20 walks and only four strikeouts. In 22 games, he had two or more hits. Of the 91 hits he accumulated during the streak, 15 went for doubles, and four went for triples.
The Yankees record during this time? 41-13 with two ties.
5. Yogi Berra
Arguably the greatest catcher in the history of the game, Yogi Berra holds multiple World Series records—as you would expect someone who appeared in 14 World Series to have accomplished.
Among others, Yogi's 75 games played, 71 hits and 10 doubles are all World Series records.
While many remember the 1956 World Series for Don Larsen's perfect game, a game that Yogi caught, his performance with the bat during that seven-game series against the Brooklyn Dodgers was outstanding.
Yogi hit .360 with three home runs and 10 RBI, including a pair of two-run home runs that attributed for the first four runs that the Yankees would score in the series-clinching Game 7.
4. Mickey Mantle
One of the greatest players in the history of the game, the best switch-hitter in history and perhaps the greatest athlete the game has ever seen, Mickey Mantle left behind a legacy that will never be equaled.
The last Yankee to win the Triple Crown (in 1956), Mantle has 13 career game-winning home runs to his credit, including Game 3 of the 1964 World Series, though the Yankees would eventually lose that series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
He holds multiple career records in the World Series including home runs (18), RBI (40) and total bases (123). While his career average of .298 is significantly higher than his career average in the postseason (.255), there is no question that you wanted Mickey Mantle at the plate with the game on the line.
3. Derek Jeter
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As we have seen on this list, clutch comes in many shapes and sizes. But Derek Jeter has made a career out of producing big hit after big hit, whether it be in the regular season or in the playoffs.
To be honest, Jeter has come through in the clutch on so many different occasions that attempting to single out one or two specific moments is a fruitless effort—everyone has his favorite.
From the Jeffrey Maier incident during the 1996 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles to the 2001 World Series that saw him dubbed "Mr. November" to the home run that served as his 3,000th hit and many in between, Derek Jeter is one of the most clutch hitters in the history of the franchise.
There's a reason that only one player is called "Captain Clutch"—and rightfully so.
2. Babe Ruth
You cannot leave the greatest offensive force that the game has ever seen off of many lists, including this one.
In 36 World Series games as a member of the Yankees, Ruth hit .348 with 15 home runs and 30 RBI—and it was only in the 1922 World Series that Ruth failed to hit .300 or send a ball over the outfield wall.
The fact remains that without Babe Ruth, the New York Yankees—and likely baseball itself—would not exist in the manner that it does today. Ruth saved both the franchise and the sport, something that was incredibly clutch.
1. Lou Gehrig
As with some of the others on this list, trying to pinpoint specific clutch moments in Lou Gehrig's career is simply a fruitless exercise as he had many.
A remarkable, clutch performance came in the 1928 World Series. While many are quick to remember Babe Ruth's three home runs in the clinching Game 4, Gehrig had one of the great performances in World Series history over the course of the four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Gehrig would post a batting line of .545/.706/1.73/2.43 with five home runs and nine RBI. He walked six times and scored five runs, never striking out.
Just one more example of why Gehrig is unquestionably the greatest 1B in the history of the game.